21 September, 2012

RIFF: "Heathens and Thieves" (****)

Gwendoline Yeo stars in "Heathens and Thieves"

"Heathens and Thieves" seems to be misplaced among its counterparts on the indie festival circuit. I don't say that to the film's detriment, however. This movie is sleek, shiny and ready for the big time. Despite the excellent technical achievements that abound in "Heathens and Theives," the film hasn't made it to your local multiplex and you haven't seen any 30-second TV spots when you tune into "Modern Family" or "Breaking Bad." Standing out in a sea of grit and soul, "Heathens and Thieves" is a shimmering Hollywood western that is worthy of the mainstream spotlight, but has found comfort in the embrace of the independent community.

The Rome International Film Festival was the 5th festival that "Heathens and Thieves" has screened at, with 10 more following. While a VOD distribution deal has been secured, a noble feat in itself, this film only suffers from a lack of starpower. The cast in place is pitch perfect. Leads Andrew Simpson and Gwendoline Yeo both possess the looks and charisma necessary for stardom. The supporting cast of Don Swayze, Richard Doyle and Tom Proctor is solid. Swayze gets the most scenery to chew on, and certainly doesn't let us down. There is no need to replace a single actor in the film, but if the exact same production had been made with Ryan Reynolds and Lucy Liu in the main roles, the film could have been a highly marketable box office success.

The cast brings plenty to the table, but the characters were already well established in the screenplay by John Douglas Sinclair (who also co-directed the film with Megan Peterson). The story, like any typical western, has what almost feels like too many characters involved. But once the gunfights start, things thin out a bit and balance is regained. Some parts of the set didn't look quite aged enough, but the best was made with the budget given and both the clothes and makeup look exceptional. Filming was broken up between fall and spring, but clever editing keeps that secret safe.

"Heathens and Thieves" was a rousing way to close out RIFF. It might be the only western and the biggest, loudest film at many of the festivals it screens at, but how could that be a bad thing?

4 out of 5 stars.


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